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How to decide between healthy and unhealthy lunchtime foods and make prepping for lunchtime fun and easy.

The 2017 school year has only been underway for a few weeks but some parents are already at their wit’s end trying to decide what the healthiest options are for their kids’ lunchtime meals. Roaming the aisles at the grocery store for healthy food can be intimidating because there are so many options to choose from. Some of these options give the perception of healthy but, in reality, are no better than feeding your kids candy or fast food.

Once you decide on a healthy meal, you then have to find the time to pack it and then hope that your kids actually eat it. With a little knowledge, creativity and some clever time management however, your kids could be eating healthy AND loving their lunch in no time.

The Imposters

Manufacturers are experts at directly targeting kids by decorating their products with vibrant colors and placing fun characters on the packaging. They also target parents by adding phrases like, ‘fruit juice’, ‘vitamins’, ‘sugar-free’, or ‘whole grain’ to their products. Because of this, parents need to be sure to read the fine print on packages and labels. Things to be on the lookout for include: the sugar content, the sodium levels, the oil content and the overall amount of artificial and highly processed colors and flavors in the ingredient list.

Some of the most popular brands that boast ‘real fruit’ (like Welch’s Fruit Snacks and Kellog’s Pop Tarts) have less than 10% fruit in them and are mostly burst

ing with teeth-rotting sugar. Then there are the highly trendy products (like Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish Crackers, Kraft Lunchables etc) that are loaded with GMOs, processed flour and even, “cheese product”—whatever that is. All it takes is a little research and parents may find themselves shocked to discover what’s in and not in their children’s snacks and meals.

The Alternatives

Getting your kids to turn away from the unhealthy snacks they know and love may seem like an intimidating task, but with a little effort and these tips, it’s not impossible.

  • Get Stylish: Start with a lunchbox that your kids will love. It might feature their favorite character or it’s their favorite color or it has a fun design on it—whatever they‘ll like and feel proud to pull out at lunchtime is worth it. Also, choose something that has a lot of compartments built in for all the new healthy foods you’ll be adding.
  • Get Colorful: Compete with colorful store-bought packaging by adding lots of colorful fruits and veggies into your kid’s lunchbox. Stock up on green raw broccoli, red, yellow and green peppers, bright red tomatoes, orange carrots and more. When adding these fruits and veggies, be sure to add a yummy dipping sauce like hummus, low-fat ranch dressing or greek yogurt to make it both delicious and fun.
  • Get Copying: Sometimes, duplicating some of their popular favorites may just be the trick. For instance, try creating your own version of Lunchables by placing whole wheat crackers, organic cheeses and meats (cut into fun shapes) into their lunchbox and then add a small brownie, cookie or granola bar and voila! a healthier version of the popular treat.
  • Get Creative: Try using cookie cutters to turn sandwiches, quesadillas and other foods into fun shapes. Another idea is to use toothpicks and skewers—try making fruit and veggie kabobs adding cut-up cheeses and other treats to the sticks to make eating the food more fun!
  • Get Balanced: You want to make sure your kids have not just a healthy lunch but a well balanced meal as well. There should be a serving of fruit, veggies, grains, protein and some dairy in every meal. Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of com says, “Think of the lunchbox as a meal on a plate, with protein, complex carbs, fresh produce and a wholesome treat on the side.”
  • Get Sharing (The Responsibilities): A good way to avoid the mad morning rush is having kids get involved in preparing and packing their lunches the night before or have them help pack their lunch for the entire week every weekend. Having them pitch in and making it a fun experience also increases the likelihood that they will eat whatever is prepared.

 

With a bit of time, effort and creativity, parents can WIN the lunchtime battle!

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